A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds (or the same sound) in two or more words, most often in the final syllables of lines in poems and songs. The word rhyme is also a pars pro toto ("a part (taken) for the whole") that means a short poem, such as a rhyming couplet or other brief rhyming poem such as nursery rhymes.
Rhyme partly seems to be enjoyed simply as a repeating pattern that is pleasant to hear. It also serves as a powerful mnemonic device, facilitating memorization. The regular use of tail rhyme helps to mark off the ends of lines, thus clarifying the metrical structure for the listener. As with other poetic techniques, poets use it to suit their own purposes; for example William Shakespeare often used a rhyming couplet to mark off the end of a scene in a play.
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The word rhyme can be used in a specific and a general sense. In the specific sense, two words rhyme if their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical; two lines of poetry rhyme if their final strong positions are filled with rhyming words. A rhyme in the strict sense is also called a perfect rhyme. Examples are sight and flight, deign and gain, madness and sadness.
Perfect rhymes can be classified according to the number of syllables included in the rhyme, which is dictated by the location of the final stressed syllable.
In the general sense, general rhyme can refer to various kinds of phonetic similarity between words, and to the use of such similar-sounding words in organizing verse. Rhymes in this general sense are classified according to the degree and manner of the phonetic similarity:
Identical rhymes are considered less than perfect in English poetry; but are valued more highly in other literatures such as, for example, rime riche in French poetry.
Though homophones and homonyms satisfy the first condition for rhyming—that is, that the stressed vowel sound is the same—they do not satisfy the second: that the preceding consonant be different. As stated above, in a perfect rhyme the last stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical in both words.
If the sound preceding the stressed vowel is also identical, the rhyme is sometimes considered to be inferior and not a perfect rhyme after all. An example of such a super-rhyme or "more than perfect rhyme" is the identical rhyme, in which not only the vowels but also the onsets of the rhyming syllables are identical, as in gun and begun. Punning rhymes, such as bare and bear are also identical rhymes. The rhyme may extend even farther back than the last stressed vowel. If it extends all the way to the beginning of the line, so that there are two lines that sound identical, it is called a holorhyme ("For I scream/For ice cream").
In poetics these would be considered identity, rather than rhyme.
Eye rhymes or sight rhymes or spelling rhymes refer to similarity in spelling but not in sound where the final sounds are spelled identically but pronounced differently. Examples in English are cough, bough, and love, move.
Some early written poetry appears to contain these, but in many cases the words used rhymed at the time of writing, and subsequent changes in pronunciation have meant that the rhyme is now lost.
Mind rhyme is a kind of substitution rhyme similar to rhyming slang, but it is less generally codified and is “heard” only when generated by a specific verse context. For instance, “this sugar is neat / and tastes so sour.” If a reader or listener thinks of the word “sweet” instead of “sour,” a mind rhyme has occurred.
Rhymes may be classified according to their position in the verse:
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines in a poem.
In many languages, including modern European languages and Arabic, poets use rhyme in set patterns as a structural element for specific poetic forms, such as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. Some rhyming schemes have become associated with a specific language, culture or period, while other rhyming schemes have achieved use across languages, cultures or time periods. However, the use of structural rhyme is not universal even within the European tradition. Much modern poetry avoids traditional rhyme schemes.
The earliest surviving evidence of rhyming is the Chinese Shi Jing (ca. 10th century BC). Rhyme is also occasionally used in the Bible. Classical Greek and Latin poetry did not usually rhyme, but rhyme was used very occasionally. For instance, Catullus includes partial rhymes in the poem Cui dono lepidum novum libellum. The ancient Greeks knew rhyme, and rhymes in The Wasps by Aristophanes are noted by a translator.
According to some archaic sources, Irish literature introduced the rhyme to Early Medieval Europe, but that is a disputed claim. In the 7th century, the Irish had brought the art of rhyming verses to a high pitch of perfection. Also in the 7th century, rhyme was used in the Qur'an. The leonine verse is notable for introducing rhyme into High Medieval literature in the 12th century.
Rhyme entered European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence of the Arabic language in Al Andalus (modern Spain). Arabic language poets used rhyme extensively from the first development of literary Arabic in the sixth century, as in their long, rhyming qasidas.
Since languages change over time, lines that rhymed in the past may no longer rhyme in today's language, and it may not be clear how one would pronounce the words so that they rhyme:
Although historically valid, "Should we really sing 'harmonious jine'?"
The word derives from Old French rime or ryme, which may be derived from Old Frankish *rīm, a Germanic term meaning "series, sequence" attested in Old English (Old English rīm meaning "enumeration, series, numeral") and Old High German rīm, ultimately cognate to Old Irish rím, Greek ἀριθμός arithmos "number". Alternatively, the Old French words may derive from Latin rhythmus, from Greek ῥυθμός (rhythmos, rhythm).
The spelling rhyme (from original rime) was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period from a learned (but perhaps etymologically incorrect) association with Latin rhythmus. The older spelling rime survives in Modern English as a rare alternative spelling. A distinction between the spellings is also sometimes made in the study of linguistics and phonology for which rime/rhyme is used to refer to the nucleus and coda of a syllable. Some prefer to spell it rime to separate it from the poetic rhyme covered by this article (see syllable rime).
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Rhyming in the Celtic Languages takes a drastically different course from most other Western rhyming schemes despite strong contact with the Romance and English patterns. Even today, despite extensive interaction with English and French culture, Celtic rhyme continues to demonstrate native characteristics. Brian Ó Cuív sets out the rules of rhyme in Irish poetry of the classical period: the last stressed vowel and any subsequent long vowels must be identical in order for two words to rhyme. Consonants are grouped into six classes for the purpose of rhyme: they need not be identical, but must belong to the same class. Thus 'b' and 'd' can rhyme (both being 'voiced plosives'), as can 'bh' and 'l' (which are both 'voiced continuants') but 'l', a 'voiced continuant', cannot rhyme with 'ph', a 'voiceless continuant'. Furthermore, "for perfect rhyme a palatalized consonant may be balanced only by a palatalized consonant and a velarized consonant by a velarized one." In the post-Classical period, these rules fell into desuetude, and in popular verse simple assonance often suffices, as can be seen in an example of Irish Gaelic rhyme from the traditional song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille:
Oh young Bridget O'Malley
Here the vowels are the same, but the consonants, although both palatalized, do not fall into the same class in the bardic rhyming scheme.
Use of rhyme in Classical Chinese poetry typically but not always appears in the form of paired couplets, with end-rhyming in the final syllable of each couplet.
As stress is important in English, lexical stress is one of the factors that affects the similarity of sounds for the perception of rhyme. Perfect rhyme can be defined as the case when two words rhyme if their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical.
Some words in English, such as "orange" and "silver", are commonly regarded as having no rhyme. Although a clever writer can get around this (for example, by obliquely rhyming "orange" with combinations of words like "door hinge" or with lesser-known words like "Blorenge" – a hill in Wales – or the surname Gorringe), it is generally easier to move the word out of rhyming position or replace it with a synonym ("orange" could become "amber", while "silver" could become a combination of "bright and argent").
The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom...
Rhymes, meters, stanza forms, etc., are like servants. If the master is fair enough to win their affection and firm enough to command their respect, the result is an orderly happy household. If he is too tyrannical, they give notice; if he lacks authority, they become slovenly, impertinent, drunk and dishonest.
Forced or clumsy rhyme is often a key ingredient of doggerel.
In French poetry, unlike in English, it is common to have identical rhymes, in which not only the vowels of the final syllables of the lines rhyme, but their onset consonants ("consonnes d'appui") as well. To the ear of someone accustomed to English verse, this often sounds like a very weak rhyme. For example, an English perfect rhyme of homophones, flour and flower, would seem weak, whereas a French rhyme of homophones doigt and doit is not only acceptable but quite common.
Rhymes are sometimes classified into the categories "rime pauvre" ("poor rhyme"), "rime suffisante" ("sufficient rhyme"), "rime riche" ("rich rhyme") and "rime richissime" ("very rich rhyme"), according to the number of rhyming sounds in the two words or in the parts of the two verses. For example, to rhyme "parla" with "sauta" would be a poor rhyme (the words have only the vowel in common), to rhyme "pas" with "bras" a sufficient rhyme (with the vowel and the silent consonant in common), and "tante" with "attente" a rich rhyme (with the vowel, the onset consonant, and the coda consonant with its mute "e" in common). Authorities disagree, however, on exactly where to place the boundaries between the categories.
Gall, amant de la Reine, alla (tour magnanime)
Gallus, the Queen's lover, went (a magnanimous gesture)
Classical French rhyme not only differs from English rhyme in its different treatment of onset consonants. It also treats coda consonants in a distinctive way.
French spelling includes several final letters that are no longer pronounced, and that in many cases have never been pronounced. Such final unpronounced letters continue to affect rhyme according to the rules of Classical French versification. They are encountered in almost all of the pre-20th-century French verse texts, but these rhyming rules are almost never taken into account from the 20th century.
The most important "silent" letter is the "mute e". In spoken French today, final "e" is, in some regional accents (in Paris for example), omitted after consonants; but in Classical French prosody, it was considered an integral part of the rhyme even when following the vowel. "Joue" could rhyme with "boue", but not with "trou". Rhyming words ending with this silent "e" were said to make up a "double rhyme", while words not ending with this silent "e" made up a "single rhyme". It was a principle of stanza-formation that single and double rhymes had to alternate in the stanza. All 17th-century French plays in verse alternate single and double alexandrine couplets.
The "silent" final consonants present a more complex case. They, too, were considered an integral part of the rhyme, so that "pont" could rhyme only with "vont" and not with "long"; but this cannot be reduced to a simple rule about the spelling, since "pont" would also rhyme with "rond" even though one word ends in "t" and the other in "d". This is because the correctness of the rhyme depends not on the spelling on the final consonant, but on how it would have been pronounced. There are a few simple rules that govern word-final consonants in French prosody:
In fact, only the "silent" final consonants that can be pronounced the same way if followed by a vowel, are able to rhyme together.
Ancient Hebrew rarely employed rhyme, e.g. in Exodus 29 35: ועשית לאהרן ולבניו כָּכה, ככל אשר צויתי אֹתָכה (the identical part in both rhyming words being / 'axa/ ). Rhyme became a permanent - even obligatory - feature of poetry in Hebrew language, around the 4th century CE. It is found in the Jewish liturgical poetry written in the Byzantine empire era. This was realized by scholars only recently, thanks to the thousands of piyyuts that have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza. It is assumed that the principle of rhyme was transferred from Hebrew liturgical poetry to the poetry of the Syriac Christianity (written in Aramaic), and through this mediation introduced into Latin poetry and then into all other languages of Europe..
O Fortunatam natam me consule Romam.
O fortunate Rome, to be born with me consul
But tail rhyme was not used as a prominent structural feature of Latin poetry until it was introduced under the influence of local vernacular traditions in the early Middle Ages. This is the Latin hymn Dies Irae:
Dies irae, dies illa
The day of wrath, that day
Portuguese classifies rhymes in the following manner:
Rhyme was introduced into Russian poetry in the 18th century. Folk poetry had generally been unrhymed, relying more on dactylic line endings for effect. Rhyme depends on a vowel and adjacent consonant (which may include the semivowel Short I). Vowel pairs rhyme - even though non-Russian speakers may not perceive them as the same sound. Consonant pairs rhyme if both are devoiced. Early 18th century poetry demanded perfect rhymes that were also grammatical rhymes—namely that noun endings rhymed with noun endings, verb endings with verb endings, and so on. Such rhymes relying on morphological endings become much rarer in modern Russian poetry, and greater use is made of approximate rhymes.
In Polish literature rhyme was used from the beginning. Unrhymed verse was never popular, although sometimes it was sometimes imitated form Latin. Homer's, Virgil's and even Milton's epic poems were furnished with rhymes by Polish translators. Because of paroxytonic accentuation in Polish, feminine rhymes always prevailed. Rules of Polish rhyme were established in 16th century. Then only feminine rhymes were allowed in syllabic verse system. Together with introducing syllabo-accentual metres, masculine rhymes began to occur in Polish poetry. They were most popular at the end of 19th century. The most frequent rhyme scheme in Old Polish (16th - 18th centuries) was couplet aabbccdd..., but Polish poets, having perfect knowledge of Italian language and literature, experimented with other schemes, among others ottava rima (abababcc) and sonnet (abba abba cdc dcd or abba abba cdcd ee).
Wpłynąłem na suchego przestwór oceanu,
Across sea-meadows measureless I go,
"Stepy akermańskie", Sonety krymskie, lines 1-4
|—"The Ackerman Steppe", Sonnets from the Crimea,
translated by Edna Worthley Underwood
The metre of Mickiewicz's sonnet is the Polish alexandrine (tridecasyllable, in Polish "trzynastozgłoskowiec"): 13(7+6) and its rhymes are feminine: [anu] and [odzi].
Rhymes were widely spread in the Arabian peninsula around the 6th century, in letters, poems and songs, as well as long, rhyming qasidas . In addition, the Koran uses a form of rhymed prose named saj'.
Patterns of rich rhyme (prāsa) play a role in modern Sanskrit poetry, but only to a minor extent in historical Sanskrit texts. They are classified according to their position within the pada (metrical foot): ādiprāsa (first syllable), dvitīyākṣara prāsa (second syllable), antyaprāsa (final syllable) etc.
There are some unique rhyming schemes in Dravidian languages like Tamil. Specifically, the rhyme called etukai (anaphora) occurs on the second consonant of each line.
Some classical Tamil poetry forms, such as veṇpā, have rigid grammars for rhyme to the point that they could be expressed as a context-free grammar.
Rhymes are used in Vietnamese to produce similes. The following is an example of a Rhyming Simile:
Nghèo như con mèo
/ŋɛu ɲɯ kɔn mɛu/
"Poor as a cat"
Compare the above Vietnamese example, which is a rhyming simile, to the English phrase "(as) poor as a church mouse", which is only a semantic simile.
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